The Alphabetical: Strange beasts in College Station

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Skip Holtz needs Bret Bielema, a fox takes Lubbock, Gus Malzahn will seek the end zone no matter what, and Johnny Manziel vs. AJ McCarron was this year's finest monster movie.

Agon. The fundamental conflict in a Greek drama or tragedy. I don't know what makes a classic game, or a classic ending, period, but it has something to do with balance: at the end, did you feel like it obeyed its own logic? Did it run out the rules as they were laid out at the start, and at both ends was it consistent in its rationale?

The 2007 Fiesta Bowl is a classic game, and not just because of its ending, but the ending clearly matters. It's not like Boise just pulled one rabbit out of its hat: it pulled three in a row in short succession, and got away with it because Boise was small, fast, and smart. Oklahoma was big, dumb, and ultimately slower on the brain-trigger than the wily opponent. Marinade the rest in a little luck, and you have a satisfying result. It was a conflict, is the point, and that conflict had rules.

BTHO. A story where characters follow their own rules should lead to a result you find sensical and satisfying. Texas A&M's code is aggression: nimble, speedy aggression across every point of the field. They did come out and run quarterback lead-option looks Alabama had never seen before, because of course they had that ready. They did throw fearlessly at Alabama's corners, because what have you done? Who are you? When we put this ball in the air, you know who our playbook says catches it? The giant wearing the Aggies uniform, the one who will beat your ass all day because one-on-one with knowledge of the ball going through the air means advantage, offense.

Of course A&M did this all day. They are Kevin Sumlin's team, and Johnny Manziel is his avatar, maybe the best he will ever have at quarterback for channeling the naked animosity his style of football has for defense. (Note: for a school fond of "BTHO [TEAM GOES HERE]", it took them a long time to hire someone whose entire attitude and ethos is that from start to finish. Imagine Mike Sherman down 49-35, and tell me you would believe he had a shot at tying the game with two minutes left.)

Carapace. Alabama followed code, too. Halfway through the game a former coach texted me: why was Saban leaving his corners in man? Why was he so damn stubborn? The answer is because that is what Nick Saban does, and has always done, and will always do. Coaches may evolve. They rarely do so mid-game, much less when the corners are part of a defensive system that has four national title rings. The answer every down, on the perimeter or along the offensive line, was the same: cover your man, use the sideline as a defender, and funnel action to the middle of the field.

Nick Saban is stubborn, but so is the fact that for Alabama, there is no more perfectly designed challenge -- no more ideal Holmes to their Moriarty -- than A&M. Wherever you are weak, they will pry. They will often tear the carapace off of the war machine you have worked so hard to create.

Digression. A quick aside about the dangers of poor human sign coordination.

Lubbock is weird at night. (And during the day.) (And during whatever you call the strange twilight accompanying a passing dust storm.)

Entrusted. Nick Saban also happened to be stubborn in another way: more than anyone would like to admit, he listens to trusted players. Last year, tied with LSU and driving in a horrendous road environment, Saban listened to Barrett Jones, who thought a halfback screen was there for the taking. Alabama ran the screen, T.J. Yeldon hit the endzone laughing, and the win saved Alabama's season.

This year, with the game on the line, and Johnny Manziel waiting on the sidelines for a chance to tie, McCarron called his own play: a play action pass to the fullback in the flat, aka "stealing money on the goal line, because the fullback is always open if he gets out of traffic." It is odd to think of Saban as stubborn in the sense of being a player's coach when it counts, even if it is potentially risky. But that's genuine battlefield improv on display and an astonishing display of trust in a moment the Crimson Tide's entire offseason had been building towards.

Foley, Alabama. The hometown of Kenny Stabler, another quarterback who was allowed to call plays at the line of scrimmage at Alabama. That's worth noting in two directions: one, that Bear Bryant wasn't above letting a smart player help him, either, and two, that AJ McCarron is approaching stratospheric company in terms of program peerage.

Gunwale. McCarron will not ever take a picture this masculine, however.

Howard. In the end Alabama would win because of a different stubbornness written into the code of the team: their offensive line, and a blind faith in their quarterback's ability to make completions on first down. McCarron made daring throws through coverage, including several throws over a linebacker and in front of a safety on seam routes to O.J. Howard that required a bombardier's touch. Alabama kept passing the ball on first down, getting the ball to yet another set of lethal legs downfield, and did so through the seamless blocking of the offensive line. McCarron did have a brilliant game. He did so much more than management. He also left the field with a spotless jersey, something so obvious the quarterback himself noted it in postgame interviews.

International. Please also remember that the offensive line coach who helped make that possible -- Mario Cristobal -- was fired from Florida International University and replaced with Ron Turner. Florida International, a three point underdog going into the game, lost 34-13 to FCS Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. Everyone here got exactly what they deserved, especially Florida International, whose every loss we will cite this year because THEY HIRED NORV TURNER'S BROTHER TO DO STUFF.

Jonathan Football. With that, you can only really fault Johnny Manziel for not playing safety on more than one play. (That one, a diving miss of Vinnie Sunseri, was a disastrous turn at the position.) One interception was a laugher of a mistake, the other, a forced ball given the Matt Davison Kick Of Indifferent Fortune, and then run into the end zone by Sunseri. The rest: a white-legged dervish heaving easy catches to an NBA forward playing wideout, scrambling in terrifying traffic, and gouging more points from the hide of Alabama than almost any team in the Tide's history.

I'll watch a monster movie any day of the week, but will watch it twice on Saturdays if it's these monsters.

This needs to go on for a bit. His QB rating for Saturday's game was his third-best, lifetime. Those other two opponents he was better against were Sam Houston State and Rice. He passed for over 400 yards against only one opponent last year, a smoldering crater of an Arkansas team too stunned to realize what was happening. Under Manziel the offense averaged 8.8 yards a play, double the 4.2 yards per play total that Alabama opponents averaged in 2012. With his defense flattened on the ground all day, his secondary in shambles, and his run game skewed heavily towards him, he still had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter against the best football mecha assembled in the modern age.

He was, despite all the advantages granted to the opponent by circumstance, chance, and sound management, right there at the end, waiting. I don't care what league this is, or what level of competition, or whether the SEC has sneakily transformed into the Big 12 overnight. I care even less about the result. Johnny Manziel at quarterback has paid himself the ultimate compliment: he has ruined future versions of himself in comparison to what he is in college, and achieved the kind of cartoonish gigantism of youth only granted players like Vince Young, Tommie Frazier, Sammy Baugh, Herschel Walker, a strange beast whose adult life as an athlete will pale in comparison to the space he occupied at 20.

Kaiju. Japanese for "strange beast," aka the creatures in Japanese monster fiction, which is clearly where we are with Alabama. This giant robot crushes all it sees in the landscape, blocking the sun as it wishes. It has an opponent, a strange beast that rises from some accident of nature. It takes losses in the struggle before adjusting, relying on superior machinery, cunning, and the belief that the machine is always right. And when that machine is wedded with sheer potential and scientific discipline, it always wins.

Saturday was Pacific Rim football played out in the Hate Barn at Kyle Field. The Apocalypse was cancelled for Alabama, though not after a lot of loud noises, frantic action, and a final defeated challenge. The plot is predictable, but you're not always here for plot. Sometimes you're here for the noise the scales make slamming into steel, and to watch a unique beast like Manziel struggle against the perfect calculus of Alabama, and its ideal pilot, McCarron. That this could be the last installment of it -- and likely will, given Manziel's struggling relationship with amateurism -- is the only negative here. I'll watch a monster movie any day of the week, but will watch it twice on Saturdays if it's these monsters, and this level of desperation on every play. I'd watch it again right freaking now.

Louder. It is adorable how Chris Spielman's voice keeps getting louder when someone makes a bad play, like he's lost control of his voice, and is a car with a bad wiring system speeding down the interstate.

Math. It is hard, and harder for some. Skip Holtz, why did you go for two when your team was down 24-15 with 3:54 on the clock against Tulane?

We were going to have to go for two either early or late. At least then, if you made the two then you kick it deep because you are in a one score game and you play defense and try to get the ball back. If you go for two, you are going to know when you go for two you, whether you need two possessions or not to kick the onside kick. If you wait until the very end to do that, you do not have that opportunity any more.

So, let's illustrate that.

Skipholtzmath_medium

This makes no sense, Skip Holtz. This is opting for a more difficult scenario for your team that requires the exact same actions as your first and easier option. It is nonsense, gibberish, hooferaw, balderdash, gobbledygook, and total bullshit. Also total bullshit: getting mashed out by Tulane, a team that just lost to South Alabama in their first full year of FBS membership. You don't have to be good at math to be a football coach. You simply have to know you aren't and delegate the job to a card, like Bret Bielema does when going for two with a 50-point lead. (At least then, you can always blame the card.)  P.S. See "S" entry below.

Nick Marshall. Completing passes to himself already, and throwing game-winning touchdowns with 13 seconds left for Auburn. That's Nick Marshall, a former DB who allegedly cannot throw a football very accurately, being told to go out and throw a game-winning TD against a lively Mississippi State defense with spare change on the clock in a game when a field goal could have sent it into overtime.

It's times like this that I wish Ron Rivera coached in college football, because I would love to see what kind of unholy, red-assed beating Gus Malzahn would deliver unto him, and exactly when in the game Rivera would kick a field goal while losing by 40. (Answer: early fourth quarter.)

Obstruction. Of justice, as in the case of Wisconsin's endgame implosion against Arizona State, a failure of execution by Wisconsin and miscommunication between the officials that cost the Badgers a shot at a game-winning field goal. In summary, Wisconsin stepped into an open elevator without looking, and that's on two people: the elevator company, and the person who didn't look before stepping.

Also, field goals should be outlawed, and are un-American, and everyone should just be like Gus Malzahn and bank on a daring endzone strike rather than the foot of one very unsteady college kicker, because this is America. We believe in rocketry, end zone scores, and daring the defense to do something about whatever we want to try next.

Punterception. Noun: the interception of the ball off the foot without ground contact, bobbling, or jostling of the ball in its reversal from flight to carriage in the opposite direction.

Quaeritur. "The question is asked" in Latin, as in, "Who are a few good candidates for the rotating guest spot coaching Texas' defense after Mack Brown, incensed by a loss to Ole Miss, fires Greg Robinson this week?" Candidates:

  • Joe Lee Dunn
  • Joe Kines
  • Jerry Glanville
  • Mickey Andrews
  • Matthew McConaughey
  • Robert Earl Keen
  • Lyle Lovett (he seemed to know a lot about football on TV)
  • Dikembe Mutombo
  • Rob Ryan
  • Longhorn Network Dial-A-Blitz Contest (user voting by text determines playcall)
  • Yahtz-D (short straight = double A-gap blitz, full house = Cover 2)
  • A very polite and slightly overweight 14-year-old boy with a lot of good ideas he got from NCAA 2011
  • Bobby Petrino (he'd be there by nightfall)

Rectified. The Longhorns did improve by not allowing a BYU player to run for 259 yards. They were playing Ole Miss, but given how they played this was probably still a theoretical possibility. They did still lose at home to Ole Miss, but we are trying to be positive.

S is for Situational Math, aka Continuation, aka the same day correction. This was originally published without an "S," because I am not a competent adult. So let's continue the discussion of whether Skip Holtz sucks at math or not --because, as numerous commenters have pointed out to me, he doesn't, and I'm wrong, and they happen to be correct. (Sort of.)

Situationally, you want the most information you can, so you go for two early to know that. Okay, that makes math sense, which we completely got wrong. And here's where math meets context, and why I'd still go for two early: THIS WAS TULANE. Make them prove they can avoid screwing up a game, and put the pressure on them, because they are fragile things, and my football team is not. Make them crack first, because they will, because, um ... blind optimism, grrr toughness, or some other blind instinctive belief.

This would fall into the department of Grudenesque Things You Believe About Football Without Any Empirical Data. This list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Always go for a big play after a turnover.
  • Trick plays always work. ALWAYS.
  • A neckroll will increase a player's tackling ability by 50% instantly.
  • Never, ever quick kick.
  • Field goals are against America.
  • Rugby punting is against nature.

It should be noted that neither Jon Gruden nor I coach football for a living at the moment, and Skip Holtz does. Apologies to Skip Holtz on that. He might be bad at other things, but he's not bad at math. We are, and Jon Gruden makes millions of dollars working one night a week and making Hooters commercials. Adjust your life goals accordingly.

Tribe Called Quest Lyric That Explains Everything You Need to Know:

Go get yourself some toilet paper cause your lyrics is butt

Michigan, just forget about almost losing to Akron. Shhhhh. This never happened. You'll be amazed at how much this never happened in a few weeks. Clean up and move on and remember that Florida almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette at home last year, needing a blocked punt to avoid disaster. Akron ran a short-side power run at the goal line with no time outs. Your lyrics are indeed butt. They require toilet paper immediately.

Unleal. Unfaithful, as in this ball thrown by Sean Mannion on the final play of Saturday's most underrated game, the 51-48 OT win for Oregon State over Utah.

Osutdbeatsutahtipped_medium

(Via @cjzero)

COME HERE BALL. MY HANDS WERE ON YOU. I WAS SUPPOSED TO INTERCEPT YOU AND INSTEAD YOU LEFT ME FOR THAT MAN WHO WON'T LOVE YOU LIKE I WILL, BALL. COME BACK. COME BACK AND I WILL LOVE YOU LIKE NO MAN EVER COULD. Also, Utah ran on the first two plays of the overtime, which seems conservative until you check the stats and realize that Utah had run easily on Oregon State all night. Yet they got little, missed on a pass attempt on third down, and had to attempt a field goal. They did what they were supposed to do by the numbers, and still lost. The numbers are bastards sometimes.

Vallum. A wall, like the one in front of the endzone in Buffalo, New York.

Screen_shot_2013-09-16_at_2

Four overtime possessions without a score, and you should burn this tape, this box score, and all memories of what transpired here.

Weis. Has now lost 16 straight games to FBS competition, including this weekend's 23-14 loss to Rice. That is an unkind stat. This is unkind SEO:

Screen_shot_2013-09-16_at_2

Let this be a warning that in this day and age Google does your marketing for you, Kansas football, so watch what you say at press conferences.

Xenodochial. Kind to strangers, as in Nebraska, who allowed 31 points in the second half, scored none, and lost 41-21 to UCLA at home. That Nebraska has had this much trouble building a defense seems baffling at this point. This sentence is evergreen. Cut-and-paste it, and use it in every analysis of every Bo Pelini Nebraska team since Ndamukong Suh's graduation.  This sentence, however, is new: Nebraska's offense disappeared completely in the second half and had no response to UCLA's onslaught.

Yellowback. A lurid novel, like the one someone could write about Bobby Petrino's lone year in Western Kentucky before taking an offensive coordinator's job in the CFL. Bowling Green Nights will be a steamy account of one football coach, the team he loves, and probably not about how they lost to South Alabama this weekend, because some things are too graphic even for the Thug Erotica table at Barnes and Noble.

Zorro. It means "foxy" in Spanish.

Lubbock: the place where wildlife makes itself part of the game, and freshman quarterbacks come off the bench to throw game-clinching touchdowns.

More from SB Nation:

What we learned from the Alabama-Texas A&M classic

Pretty much everyone agrees Wisconsin-Arizona State ending was botched

All our coverage from Week 3’s Saturday

You shouldn’t care about Bo Pelini vs. Tommie Frazier

Would coaches rather replace Mack Brown or Lane Kiffin?

Today’s college football news headlines

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